MBA vs. MS: Which Is Right for You?

Male and female MBA students drawing chart on board

After earning an undergraduate degree in a business management field, people will typically enter the job marketplace or start their own companies. However, at some point, you may decide that to further your career, you need to acquire additional qualifications and knowledge. Going back to school to earn a graduate degree is a great way to build your skill set, expand your professional network and enhance your competitive edge.

Professionals in business management fields can choose between a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and a Master of Science (MS) degree. These two degree programs overlap in many ways, but there are crucial differences that you should be aware of before you make your decision. Some schools offer both types of degrees in various business management specializations.

Here’s a closer look at both options.

An Overview of MBA Programs

The Master of Business Administration degree is widely considered to be the gold standard in academic credentials for aspiring executives. It is an internationally recognized degree that enables students to develop a solid framework of competencies. It is customary for an MBA program to focus on key areas such as the following: 

  • Leadership styles and skills
  • Effective communication
  • Ethical decision-making
  • Critical thinking and analytical reasoning

Students can expect an MBA program to deliver a curriculum that is broad in scope, making this degree a good choice for individuals in a wide range of industries and organizations. However, some schools do offer specialization options for MBA students. You can choose from a full array of specializations.

Some specializations include:

  • Sports Business: An MBA in sports business is a perfect option to consider for those who are interested in working in the sports industry. It combines business and sports knowledge to help graduates pursue career paths in this industry.
  • Project Management: A degree in project management gives graduates a deeper understanding of management and leadership and may help prepare them to apply that knowledge to managerial roles, such as general manager or director of operations.
  • Finance: A Master of Business Administration with an Emphasis in Finance is designed with courses that equip students to comprehend various financial principles and strategies.
  • Health Systems Management: For individuals with a passion for the health field as well as business, an MBA in Health Systems Management can provide an opportunity for growth and experience. Courses in the program range from Healthcare Policies and Economics to Leadership and Organizations.
  • Marketing: Businesses rely on the crucial field of marketing when seeking to connect a product or service with an audience. An MBA in Marketing increases not only a graduate’s employability but also their knowledge and professional experience.
  • Strategic Human Resource Management: Students with an interest in HR may choose to pursue an MBA in Strategic Human Resource Management. This specialization revolves around management skills needed for hiring and retaining employees.

The Focus and Academic Experience of MBA Students

In a Master of Business Administration degree, students will typically take courses across multiple topic areas. These include accounting, finance, marketing and operations management. Students who choose an MBA degree with specialization will also take courses pertaining to that specialization. For example, students earning an MBA with an Emphasis in Sports Business study broad topics like managerial finance, applied business statistics and economics, as well as specialized topics like sports business analytics and sports business revenue generation.

MBA students can expect to work through a rigorous curriculum that emphasizes online learning experiences along with flexibility and convenience, allowing MBA students to balance school, work and personal life. Some students may also choose to accelerate their learning and complete their MBA more quickly.

Some MBA students may choose to focus on building professional networks through clubs and on-campus events along with online courses. MBA students can make the most of their time in school by making new acquaintances—perhaps connecting with a mentor and building connections at companies they may one day work for or with.

An Overview of MS Programs

Shifting over to a Master of Science degree, professionals with an MS degree in the area of business management are viewed as leading experts in their field. Whereas a typical MBA degree program instills a wide breadth of competencies, an MS program involves an in-depth exploration of a particular area. A Master of Science degree is an excellent option for students who know exactly which area of business most interests them, whether it’s accounting, business analytics or leadership.

The Focus and Academic Experience of MS Students

An online MS degree program is typically more focused on academics than an MBA degree program. However, students may still undertake learning experiences in an online environment. For example, students earning a Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) will complete the Leadership Capstone, which involves developing and executing a community- or organization-based project that showcases their leadership skills.

Typically, all of the courses in an MS degree are acutely focused on that particular area. For example, students earning an MSL will study the following topics:

  • Servant leadership
  • Leadership styles
  • Coaching, mentoring and leadership development
  • Leadership and innovation MS students will emerge with a keen understanding of their area of specialization, making them competitive candidates for high-level positions.

Some of the specializations for this degree include:

  • Cybersecurity: A master’s degree in cybersecurity allows those who have already earned their bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity to take their skills to the next level.
  • Leadership: For those who want to become business leaders, an MS in Leadership is worth considering. This program helps aspiring leaders learn what is required in leadership roles and how to be a servant leader.
  • Accounting: Accounting is of great importance in business. A master’s degree in accounting equips graduates with a mastery of accounting concepts that can help them excel in their field.
  • Business Analytics: A Master of Science in Business Analytics Degree or MSBA is a graduate degree that trains students to effectively analyze data and predict patterns. 

The Best of Both Worlds: A Dual Degree

What happens if you simply can’t choose between an MBA and an MS degree? Both have compelling advantages, and both will help graduates further their career ambitions. For professionals who want the best of both worlds, some schools offer a dual degree

Students who earn a Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Leadership (MBA/MSL) degree are uniquely qualified professionals who are capable of effecting positive change in their chosen industries. Earning an MBA/MSL degree will set you apart from other job candidates and help you reach the pinnacle of your career.

MBA vs. Master’s: What Comes Next?

After you finish your MBA or MS, although it may not be necessary, you may choose to further pursue your education with a doctoral degree. Doctor of Business Administration (or DBA) degrees also have specializations that can elevate you to the highest level of knowledge in your field.

Whether you decide on an MBA program or an MS degree—or both—you can find what you’re looking for at Grand Canyon University. Our private, Christian university is pleased to offer a diverse selection of online MBA programs and MS degrees, including the Master of Science in Leadership (MSL), Master of Science in Health Care Administration (MHA) and Master of Business Administration degrees, with specializations available in accounting, cybersecurity, finance, leadership and many more. Are you ready to begin your business degree? Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to start your academic journey at GCU.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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